Senior Writer

AFC South Preview: Colts cure for common hangover


The hangover will kill them. No Super losers turn into Super winners the following season. Have you seen the Indianapolis Colts in the preseason? Did you see the Green Bay Packers hang 59 on them two weeks ago?

On and on it goes, the reasons the Colts won't be as good in 2010 as they were a season ago.

List as many as those reasons as you want. Try as you may to pick this Colts team to pieces, the reality is they are better than the team that went 14-0 to open the 2009 season before packing it in for the final two games.

That's not to say they will match that record, but this much we know: The Colts will win at least 12 games again. That's the magic number of victories the Colts have hit in each of the past seven seasons, making them the model of consistently being an elite team.

And don't dare think there is any looking back. Not with Peyton Manning running the show.

He won't allow it. He's even adamant about it. During camp, Colts owner Jimmy Irsay said last season was in the rearview mirror, but that the team would occasionally glance back at it.

Manning has already broken that imaginary mirror.

"We've kind of moved on and we're thinking about this season," Manning said during a chat this summer.

He did say he watched the tape of that Super loss to the Saints. But when pressed on it, he didn't care to elaborate. You can bet he watched it to pick something up that might help him this season, next season or down the road.

Manning isn't one to watch and let the hurt fester. He's all about the next game, the next season.

That's why the Colts are still the team to beat -- by far -- in the AFC South. The Houston Texans have become a media darling, but while they have top-tier talent, the roster isn't as good around it.

That offsets having arguably five of the top 20 players in the division in Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson, Mario Williams, DeMeco Ryans and Brian Cushing. The other question is this: How tough are the Texans?

That can't be said about the Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars. Both teams will play to the personality of their coaches, which is competitive, feisty and tough. They are also both limited by their quarterbacks.

In Tennessee, it's Vince Young. In Jacksonville, it's David Garrard. Young made strides last season, but Garrard regressed. If Young continues to improve, the Titans will push for a wild-card spot. I think they're the second team in the division, not the Texans.

Predicted Order of Finish
1 Colts2009: 14-2 (1st AFC South)
Indianapolis Colts Pts. Scored: 416 (7th overall)
Pts. Allowed: 307 (8th overall)
Off. Yds/G: 363.1 (9th overall)
Def. Yds/G: 339.2 (18th overall)
2 Titans2009: 8-8 (3rd AFC South)
Tennessee Titans Pts. Scored: 354 (16th overall)
Pts. Allowed: 402 (28th overall)
Off. Yds/G: 351.4 (12th overall)
Def. Yds/G: 365.6 (27th overall)
3 Texans2009: 9-7 (2nd AFC South)
Houston Texans Pts. Scored: 388 (10th overall)
Pts. Allowed: 333 (17th overall)
Off. Yds/G: 383.1 (4th overall)
Def. Yds/G: 324.9 (13th overall)
4 Jaguars2009: 7-9 (4th AFC South)
Jacksonville Jaguars Pts. Scored: 290 (24th overall)
Pts. Allowed: 380 (24th overall)
Off. Yds/G: 336.6 (18th overall)
Def. Yds/G: 352.3 (23rd overall)

They're all chasing a Colts team that has improved. The Colts get safety Bob Sanders and receiver Anthony Gonzalez, two key players who missed most of last season with injuries. That's like adding two key free agents.

"I think we have a chance to be a good football team," Colts coach Jim Caldwell said.

That's the understatement of the summer so far. A chance? No, they are a good football team -- better than last season even, and still the top dog in the AFC South.

Indianapolis Colts

Significant additions: T Adam Terry, DE Jerry Hughes, LB Pat Angerer, TE Brody Eldridge.

Significant losses: QB Jim Sorgi, DE Raheem Brock.

Biggest offseason move: Making Clyde Christensen the offensive coordinator and making Tom Moore the offensive consultant. Christensen is a Manning favorite, but he has to be willing to stand up to the quarterback. Moore did. Every great actor needs a director. Manning needs his as well.

Will go to the playoffs if ... Manning stays upright. That's the key, as it is every year.

Rookie to watch: Angerer. If the Colts have some injury issues, this kid is ready to step in and play. He's a talented player with good instincts.

Overview: There are few givens in the NFL, but the Colts in the playoffs under Manning is one of them. Manning was one quarter away from being in the conversation about being the greatest quarterback of all-time. But that fourth-quarter interception in the Super Bowl ended that talk. It shouldn't. The only concern I have about the offense is Christensen. The offensive line, which struggled in the Super Bowl, should be better. The defense didn't show much in the preseason, but it should be improved. The secondary might be the best in the league when all four starters are on the field. The Colts will play deep into January again.

Tennessee Titans

Significant additions: DE Jason Babin, LB Will Witherspoon, CB Ty Hill, DE Derrick Morgan, CB Alterraun Verner.

Significant losses: DE Kyle Vanden Bosch, TE Alge Crumpler.

Biggest offseason move: Letting Vanden Bosch walk. The Titans will try to replace him with a bunch of bodies.

Will go to the playoffs if ...: Vince Young is for real. If his 2009 season wasn't an aberration, the Titans could be pretty good.

Rookie to watch: Verner. He is a corner who has already caught the eye of the coaching staff. He won't open as a starter, but don't be shocked to see him there late in the season.

Overview: Under Jeff Fisher, you can expect the Titans to be tough and run the ball. This team will be no different. They will feed Chris Johnson every week. He is on record as saying he can get 2,000 yards again. That will be tough, but he should have another big year. Young seems better prepared to be a starter now. He does have to throw it better and more accurately. The defense isn't full of stars but there is talent. It is young and aggressive. The secondary has to be better than it was last season, and I think it will be. Fisher's team won't be an easy out any Sunday.

Houston Texans

Significant additions: G Wade Smith, CB Kareem Jackson, RB Derrick Ward.

Significant losses: RB Ben Tate (ankle injury).

Biggest offseason move: Bringing back coach Gary Kubiak. Not only that, they gave him a contract extension.

Will go to the playoffs if ... the running game and the defense catch up to that passing game.

Rookie to watch: Jackson. He is an immediate starter, which is a lot of pressure for a rookie corner. But he has looked the part since being drafted in April.

Overview: There is no doubt the Texans will be good on offense. They have a great passing combo in Schaub and Johnson. They should again put up some big numbers. But the running game has to be better. Arian Foster has looked good in the preseason and that has to carry over. The defense has issues. There is talent with Williams, Ryans and Cushing but there are too many holes. Keep an eye on corner Glover Quin. He is a rising player. The thing about the Texans that seems to be a concern is toughness. How tough are they? That has to change if they are to be a playoff team. This is a big year for Kubiak. Getting to 9-7 isn't good enough anymore.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Significant additions: DE Aaron Kampman, WR Kassim Osgood, LB Kirk Morrison, DT Tyson Alualu,

Significant losses: DT John Henderson, WR Torry Holt.

Biggest offseason move: Signing Kampman to help a pass rush that had just 14 sacks last season. Kampman is coming off a knee injury, so there is some risk.

Will go to the playoffs if ... QB David Garrard suddenly sees the field the way a quarterback should.

Rookie to watch: Alualu. They traded up to get him in the first round, a move ripped by many. But he has already impressed.

Overview: GM Gene Smith is putting together a nice roster. There is a lot of young talent here. But the problem is the passing game. Garrard is limited and that hurts the offense. That means a lot of Maurice-Jones Drew. They will draft a quarterback next year, but this season will be about young players growing. Look for this team to be feisty and maybe win eight games. If Garrard plays like he did in 2007, they just might push for a playoff spot, but I don't think that's likely. If they don't win seven or more games, there could be a new coach, with Jack Del Rio getting the boot.

Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.

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